A Strange Day at Dubai Parks and Resorts

In short:

  • Click here for our full photo gallery from Dubai Parks and Resorts
  • We went on a rainy day and the park was entirely empty for hours; even as it filled up, it was never crowded
  • There's enough for one, maybe two days here, but there's nothing worth planning a trip around, and Dubai has much better offerings for the family
  • The quality of the parks is far short of Disney parks

We were in Dubai for four days in March, and we decided we had to spend a day at Dubai Parks and Resorts.

The Background of Dubai Parks and Resorts

Dubai Parks and Resorts is collection of three theme parks - Legoland Dubai, Bollywood Parks, and Motiongate - one water park (Legoland Water Park), and a hotel, Lapita. It is about a 30-minute drive from central Dubai. Dubai is actually home to a number of theme parks and similar attractions, with more in development. Dubai is an up-and-coming tourist destination, and the UAE as a whole has a very family-centric culture. Bringing theme parks to Dubai is the natural product of these elements, but with projects like Dubai Parks and Resorts, developers may be thinking a little too big. The parks only opened in late 2016, and their infancy shows.

When It Rains, Dubai Shuts Down

There's no doubting we chose an odd day to visit Dubai Parks and Resorts. It apparently rains about 5 days a year in Dubai, and we went to Dubai Parks and Resorts on a morning that started with a healthy amount of rain. It subsided for the most part during the day, except for a 10 minute deluge that had everyone (even those who had seen such rain before) in awe.

 A wet, empty start to our time at Dubai Parks and Resorts

A wet, empty start to our time at Dubai Parks and Resorts

To that end, this review has to be taken with something of a grain of salt. How big a grain? I can't really say. Searching online, it seems crowds are a minimal issue, and the word "empty" pops up a couple of times. During our time there, we waited in a collective 45 seconds of lines besides when we were waiting for shows to finish.

An Incredibly Frustrating Ticketing Experience

(Note: Since Dubai uses the United Arab Emirates Dirham, we express the prices in AED. As of this writing, AED 100 is about $27, so roughly divide by 4 to get USD prices.)

I went online to buy tickets and was met with two hurdles. First, there wasn't a sensible option for seeing all four parks. The only option for seeing multiple parks in one day is the "1 Day 2 Parks" ticket for AED 335. There is a "2 Days 4 Parks" ticket for AED 425, but that requires you to split the parks over two days. A one-day park hopper with four-park access used to exist, but for some reason is no longer offered. If I'm being cynical, it's because you can easily visit all four parks in one day, and too many people were using that option.

 The only single-day, multi-park ticket option.

The only single-day, multi-park ticket option.

The cheapest ticket option to see all four parks in one day is actually the SEVEN-day pass. That ticket costs AED 505. Since the individual parks cost between AED 215 and AED 265, even some sort of combination of lower-priced tickets won't beat the seven-day pass. This is altogether a bizarre pricing structure, but our decision was made for us, we were going to be getting seven-day passes just for a single day of visiting.

Once I'd settled on tickets, I was met with a technical problem. My credit card kept getting rejected because I hadn't input the state for the billing address, but there was no field to put state into! I've seen other visitors mention this problem online, but no one seems to have identified a solution. Eventually I gave up and resigned to buy tickets at the park. I didn't realize at the time that tickets were more expensive at the park, however.

Getting to Dubai Parks and Resorts from Dubai

We took a cab to Dubai Parks and Resorts. It's a pretty long ride (about 45 minutes, depending on your route) and wound up costing us around AED 130. Getting back was cheaper because a more favorable route was available (we had headed out there at rush hour), coming in around AED 100. The driver explained that if the rain kept up, the streets would start to close. It didn't sound entirely like he was warning us we might get stuck, but he certainly put the idea in our minds.

As we got closer and closer, the lack of traffic became noticeable. When we pulled up to the taxi stand, it would have been reasonable to ask whether or not the park was even open. In fact, it was 10:45 and Legoland had been open for 45 minutes.

 The back of Bollywood Parks could use some "Go Away" green.

The back of Bollywood Parks could use some "Go Away" green.

The other noticeable think about the trip there was how, for lack of a better word, naked the parks are. From the outside, they really reveal themselves. Disney fanatics are familiar with the fact that the Disney parks you see as a guest conceal some truly monstrous facilities that actually house rides. (For a not-so-magical moment, click through to this photo to see the building that actually houses haunted mansion). At Dubai Parks and Resorts, you simply drive past these monstrosities without any concern for a betrayal of the magic of theme parks!

Riverland

You experience at Dubai Parks and Resorts starts at Riverland. Riverland is sort of a miniature Disney Springs meets Epcot World Showcase pavilion experience. There are a variety of restaurants and shops situated around themes areas—French Village, Boardwalk, India Gate, and The Peninsula. Riverland was much busier when we left, with a variety of street performers and visitors to the shops and restaurants, but it wasn't quite crowded. It did seem like you could fill a few hours with dinner, dessert, and some shopping.

 The French Village area of Riverland

The French Village area of Riverland

Like Dubai, Riverland was filled with a variety of American chains, including McDonalds, Olive Garden, and Starbucks. After a ten-minute walk through an empty Riverland, we arrived at the gate to Legoland. You can reach all the parks through Riverland, but we went with Legoland first since it opened the earliest.

A Strangely Frustrating Ticketing Experience

Having finally arrived at the gates of one of the parks, it was time to purchase tickets. Dubai is generally quite hospitable, and while the ticketing agents couldn't seem to tell right from left, they were quite polite. They began by telling us that 12 rides were open an 7 were closed, and that we would find similar figures over at Motiongate as well. Were we sure we wanted to buy tickets? "Yes."

 The entrance to Legoland

The entrance to Legoland

There was a supervisor who was watching out agent over her shoulder (she seemed to have been in training) and telling her other details to share. This ride isn't working. That ride might open later. The store was closed. And so on. I appreciated the effort to get us to not buy tickets, but it made for a longer than necessary experience.

I confirmed with the agent that there was no way to see all four parks on one ticket in one day. I explained my ticketing desires, but it quickly became apparent I knew the most about the ticketing options from my 30 minutes on the website that morning. The supervisor did have a supervisor she checked with to confirm a few things, so someone in there had a good grasp of it, but it was not a smooth experience. The staff was quite surprised to see me settle on the seven-day ticket, which is concerning mostly because I had been very clear about my goal of seeing all the parks that day. It's worth noting that even though one park (Legoland Waterpark) was closed for the day, the seven-day ticket was still the best option. At the park, the seven-day ticket cost AED 560. 

We finished our coffees (no outside food or drink, even from Riverland) and headed in. The family ahead of us was having a discussion with the gate attendant about the rides being down, and they were eventually escorted to customer service. We were once again warned about the rides being down, did we still with to enter? "Yes." And we were on to our first park!

Legoland Dubai

Legoland Dubai is itself broken into six lands — Factory, Kingdoms, Lego City, Imagination, Adventure, and Miniland. Some of these were nearly identical to their counterparts at Legoland Florida, with many of the rides borrowed from Legoland Florida.

Since not all the rides were working, we can't really give a complete review. We can come close, though. The only major ride that wasn't working was "The Dragon," a rollercoaster in the Kingdoms area. Besides that, the rides that were either not working or that we skipped were your typical sort of carnival rides.

 A working ride where you drive a boat in a circle for about 3 minutes.

A working ride where you drive a boat in a circle for about 3 minutes.

 The entryway to Kingdoms. Not quite Cinderella Castle.

The entryway to Kingdoms. Not quite Cinderella Castle.

By far, the best land in Legoland is "Adventure," which had two actually good rides. The first was Lost Kingdom Adventure, a Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin style ride around a sort of Indiana Jones temple. The second was Submarine Adventure, where your submarine capsule goes underwater and you ride around the inside of an aquarium for a few minutes. 

 One of our favorites, a shooter-style game around an Indiana-Jones style temple.

One of our favorites, a shooter-style game around an Indiana-Jones style temple.

Miniland was also a nice stop. It's a collection of Lego replicas of major buildings around the world. It was also nice because it was indoors, which allowed us to escape the rain (and would allow you to usually escape the heat).

 Burj Al Arab in Miniland

Burj Al Arab in Miniland

Bollywood Parks Dubai

After Legoland we headed back through Riverland to Bollywood Parks. Bollywood Parks breaks down pretty simply. There are three good rides, one not great "stunt spectacular", and a variety of okay dance performances around the park. There's also a feature show inside the Rajmahal theater that we weren't able to see.

 The Raj Mahal - the centerpiece of Bollywood Parks.

The Raj Mahal - the centerpiece of Bollywood Parks.

If there's a ride at Dubai Parks and Resorts that shows its potential, it is Krrish: Hero's Flight. This is essentially Soarin', but you're accompanying Bollywood superhero Krrish on an adventure. That's right—Dubai Parks and Resorts has it's very own Soarin'! No, the execution isn't on par with Soarin', but still, it was an unexpectedly great experience.

 Even as the day went on, the parks didn't fill up.

Even as the day went on, the parks didn't fill up.

Bollywood also has a 4D theater experience, "RA.One: Unleashed." This is essentially a 3D theater show with some added effects in the form of seats that move and shake, along with some air and water effects.

There's also a 3D shooter game. It was a little better in execution than the shooter game in Legoland, but I couldn't tell the good guys from the bad guys.

Around Bollywood are smaller dance performances, each about 5-7 minutes long. We caught these in succession, which was easy because the park is so small. They were entertaining, but nothing fantastic.

 Taking part in a dance demonstration

Taking part in a dance demonstration

Finally, there is "Dabangg: Stunt Spectacular Show." The first thing I noticed about the show was that it was indoors, which meant it would be more limited than the outdoor Indiana Jones stunt spectacular from Hollywood Studios (Walt Disney World). In reality, the shows aren't even comparable. I've never been too blown away by the Indiana Jones show, but watching Dabangg made me appreciate Indy. The Dabangg show is just 20 minutes of fake fighting, the most impressive "stunt" being a two-story fall.

 And then the good guys and bad guys all dance together for some reason.

And then the good guys and bad guys all dance together for some reason.

After the stunt show we headed to Motiongate, our final park of the day.

Motiongate

Motiongate is the most complete park at Dubai Parks and Resorts. The theming is beyond what is offered at Bollywood, and while Legoland is also themed well, the plastic look gets a bit tiring. The different worlds at Motiongate are primarily just for rides based on movies from different studios, with Dreamworks being an entirely indoor section.

 Quite the queue for the Zombieland ride.

Quite the queue for the Zombieland ride.

We couldn't ride all the rides at Motiongate, but the ones we did were better than anything we rode at Legoland and better than all of Bollywood except for its Soarin' knockoff. These included a Zombieland-themed drop ride, a Green Hornet mini-coaster, a Kung Fu Panda simulated boat ride, and a Madagascar indoor roller coaster.

 The Madagascar area inside the Dreamworks land.

The Madagascar area inside the Dreamworks land.

The highlight of our time in Motiongate, though, was the "Step Up" dance show. Not everyone will appreciate it as we did, but the premise is that a hip-hop dance troupe of Western expats (presumably) in Dubai is preparing for a dance contest. It is both awesome and hilarious.

You Can probably Pass, For now

Dubai Parks and Resorts is certainly no Disney. My best guess of where it goes wrong is that they would have been better served building one or two good parks instead of three mediocre ones (and a water park I didn't get to visit). Bollywood would fit well as a land at another park, but it doesn't have enough to justify a full park. Legoland is somewhat similar. While the different-themed areas are cool, the plastic starts to wear on the eyes.

Dubai Parks and Resorts is maybe what Walt Disney World would have been had the Disney Corporation not had the benefit of learning from Disneyland or, more importantly, had the Disney Corporation never had Walt Disney. Dubai Parks and Resorts tries to be transformative, but it ultimately falls short of taking you anywhere. Yes, you will see many positive reviews online. The best I can gather is that these come from locals who don't judge theme parks by the same standards as those who frequent Six Flags, Universal, or Disney do. Don't get me wrong, that's awesome for the locals. I'm glad they really enjoy it. (You can tell many people there have never been to a theme park or carnival, as they ask every attendant whether the ride is dangerous.) But if you're going to compare it to parks in the US you're going to be disappointed.

 It just seems a little like they'd like to have some of that Disney magic...

It just seems a little like they'd like to have some of that Disney magic...

We had originally planned to swing by Lapita (the resort at Dubai Parks and Resorts) but decided against it because we weren't going to recommend anyone go there anyways. Once Six Flags Dubai is completed in 2019 and the parks have had more time to sort out the problems, I could see Dubai Parks and Resorts being worthy of a single night stay with two days of parks.

Until 2019, it's best to pass on this destination. More than anything, Dubai Parks and Resorts just isn't the best use of time in Dubai. Dubai is an enjoyable city with plenty of kid-friendly activities at the city center. I wouldn't call our day away from the city a waste, but I wouldn't suggest spending time at Dubai Parks and Resorts unless you were in Dubai for at least five or six days. And then I'd say you should max out at a day. We're hoping to get back to Dubai in 2020 for the World Expo, and we're excited to see how Dubai Parks and Resorts grows between now and then.

Want more of our impressions of Dubai? It was more family-friendly than we expected. Read more here!